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Alcohol rules are a little different in Sweden. We knew that though. There is the state run Systembolaget which is the only outlet available for the legal purchase of any sort of hard alcohol or higher alcohol content beer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t buy beer in your average grocery store. It just means that the beer you buy in that grocery store will have a lower alcohol content.
There are several different classifications of beer in Sweden ranging from I, the weakest, to III, the strongest. They all depend on the alcohol content. That alcohol content determines where you can buy your beer.
The first is lättöl. Lättöl (literally translating as light beer) is any beer with 2.25% alcohol content or less. Essentially what that means is that you can buy it just about anywhere including grocery stores, restaurants, and bars. You can even find this at McDonalds in some places. Technically it is classified as being non-alcoholic beer and can be bought by anyone, although several places will not sell to minors regardless of the alcohol content.
Your klass II type of beer is folköl (literally the people’s beer). This beer can contain between 2.25% and 3.5% alcohol. Folköl is also available in grocery stores, but is not available to anyone under the age of 18.
Of course, there is starköl, a klass III beer. Literally strong beer, it is, surprisingly enough, the strongest beer available in Sweden. This beer is anything over 3.5% and can only be purchased at Systembolaget or bars and restaurants. The rules here for consumption get tricky. If you are at Systembolaget, you must be 20 years old to buy a starköl. However, you are more than welcome to go to bars and restaurants (provided you are allowed in according to their age limit) and buy a beer there at the age of 18. It is perfectly legal to do so. I’m not going to lie, I don’t know why. I assume it has something to do with the idea that a bar or restaurant there is some sense of regulation and that an 18 year old will not be able to drink him or herself stupid at a bar whereas if they were allowed to buy as much beer as they like at Systemet, who knows what might happen. That is purely speculation, but in my little world, it makes some semblance of sense.
Finally, there is something referred to as mellanöl (literally medium beer). Mellanöl doesn’t really exist as a classification anymore, however breweries consider it to be anything between 3.5% and 4.5%. Ordering one at a bar will get you something that still has alcohol, still tastes like beer, but won’t get you nearly as drunk as quick. This is a good thing. Especially when you find yourself out with a group of friends buying rounds. Plus, they’re usually a bit cheaper. So if you know it’s going to be a long night (and you are of course of legal drinking age. Duh.) order a mellanöl or lättöl when it’s your round.
When it’s not your turn to buy and you want something a little stronger, just ask for a stor stark – big and strong.